Language of Emotions, Peacock’s Tail or Auditory Cheesecake? Musical Meaning: Philosophy vs. Evolutionary Psychology

In Andrej Démuth (ed.), Cognitive Rethinking of Beauty. Uniting the Philosophy and Cognitive Studies of Aesthetic Perception. Berlin: Peter Lang (2019)
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Traditional views concerning musical meaning, in the field of philosophy, quite often oscillate around the discussion of whether music can transfer meaning (and if so if it happens by a means similar to language). Philosophers have provided a wide range of views – according to some, music has no meaning whatsoever, or if there is any meaning involved, it is only of a formal/structural significance. According to the opposing views, music can contain meaning similarly to language and what is more, sometimes it can be even richer than language, as in music we are – arguably – able to encode “emotional meanings”. In recent years, several approaches – also speculative – to the old philosophical question have been proposed by evolutionary psychologists, one of the most controversial views being that of Stephen Pinker’s famous metaphor for music as “auditory cheesecake”. This anti-adaptationist view has been challenged f. ex. by Geoffrey Miller or Ian Cross. In this chapter, I enlist some main philosophical views on the titular problem and investigate some evolutionary-paradigm-based propositions for its solution, to examine whether – both from explanatory and methodological standpoints – the philosophy of music could gain something from recent developments in evolutionary psychology.
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